How to Avoid a Flash Blow Out

Your camera's flash can either by a huge savior or a huge pain. In places where the light is really low, like a club, it can be really helpful brightening your shots without bothering other people. Then there are other times when it automatically turns on after you manually set the exposure. There's also the annoying and infamous red eye. But, perhaps one of the flash's worst effects is blow out. Why does it happen, and how can you avoid it?

What Is Blow Out?

Your flash emits a very small, yet very bright light. It's designed to light up a subject who is standing just a few feet away from the lens. The light falls off very quickly so a lot of the time you see photos where the subjects are nicely lit, but the background is very dark. If the subject is too close to the camera, then he will be overexposed or blown out. So, how can we avoid it? Assuming that we can't use other lights instead of the flash, we are left with three options.

Aperture

The quickest option is to close the aperture to compensate for the overexposure. This will take the blow out down, but it has two undesirable effects. It alters your depth of field, which you may or may not be too concerned about. But, the biggest side effect/problem is that your background, beyond the reach of the flash, will be completely dark. It's a quick fix, but not a plausible solution all the time.

Move the Camera away from the Subject

If the flash is blowing out the subject, then move the camera away from him. That way the light reaching him is less intense. You can also move him away from the camera if you're concerned about the background being too dark. You can compensate for the change in your frame by either zooming in or out.

Diffuse the Flash

This is simple, yet more time intensive than the other two fixes. Place a somewhat transparent material over the flash to make the light soft and less intense. Almost any material will do, even a plastic bag from the local store and a rubber band. If you have the time and a utility knife, you can use a slightly frosted plastic bottle to function as a soft box. Keep in mind that if the container extends past the lens, then you need to place some kind of material to keep the light from spilling out of the bottom, or your image will suffer from lens flare.

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